The two middle girls return from a long walk. “There’s someone outside who wants to speak with you,” the older one says.
I go out and see a woman standing there. “Hi,” she says. “Your girls were standing at the intersection over there, and they threw something at my car. It hit my window. There’s no damage but I thought you should know.”
I thank her and ask her to wait a moment. I pop back into the house. The girls are standing side by side, perfectly still, on the other side of the room. “Is this true?” I ask.
“Yes,” they both say.
I point towards the door. “Let’s go.”
Without waiting for further instructions, they go outside and apologize quite nicely, the 13-year-old stoic, the 11-year-old’s voice shaking. The woman accepts their apology and tells them they shouldn’t do things like that. I apologize to her again and thank her for being understanding.
I go inside and even though it’s the middle of the afternoon, I send both girls to bed, and tell them they’re not allowed to read or talk, that they just have to lay there. Without a word, they hang up their jackets and go.
I wait nearly an hour before I go in. “I am so sorry, Daddy,” the younger one says, trying and failing not to sob. The older one sits up straight, as though at her arraignment, and says, “It was my idea and I take complete and total responsibility.”
I hold up my hand. “What did you throw?” I ask.
“These little berries that were on the ground.”
I nod grimly, although inside I’m very relieved. That’s it? Just berries?
“Was that the first car you’d thrown them at?”
“No. Just the first one we hit.”
Inside I resolve to step up the number of catches we have in the backyard.
“Why did you do it? What were you thinking?”
The younger one opens her mouth to try to explain but no words will come. She just shakes her head.
The teenager also shakes her head as she says, “It just…it just seemed like a good idea at the time.”
I nod as I stand up. “I’ll be back.”
I wait another hour before returning. The 11-year-old is clearly tormented by her actions and would do just about anything to go back in time and change the past.
I sit down and say, “When your oldest and best uncle was about, I dunno, 12? He and a bunch of the neighborhood kids were playing at someone’s house on the next block. Like a lot of the houses in the New England area we grew up in, it had a gravel driveway. For some reason your uncle and some of the other boys grabbed a handful of rocks and threw them at a passing car. The car screeched to a halt. All the other kids instantly ran away, but not your uncle. He just stood there and waited for the driver. The driver made him give his name and address and then he came and talked to Grandma and Granddad. Your uncle apologized and, as I recall, was given a pretty hefty punishment. But the driver, despite being unhappy about having pebbles thrown at his car, was impressed that your uncle had stood his ground and admitted culpability, and he told your grandparents that. Grandma and Granddad, although probably not admitting it at the time, were impressed too.”
I look at them, and motion for the younger to come sit on my lap. “You guys made a mistake, a big one. But you admitted it and you apologized even without being told to. And I’m guessing you’ve learned from this and won’t be doing it again?”
The older nods seriously while the younger buries her face in my chest as she tries to stop crying.
I tell them they can have dinner in a little while, but that’s it. The rest of the evening and night they’re just going to stay in their beds without talking. And in the morning everything’ll reset.
And I leave and I stop in the hall and I look at what they’d been wearing, the hoodies they’d been wearing, now hung up neatly in the closet.
I think about what might have happened if things had just been a little, and not really all that much different. If they’d been boys instead of girls. If they’d been just a few years older, each. If the hoodies had been grey and black instead of pink and cream. If we’d lived in Florida instead of California. Most of all, of course, I think about what might have happened if they’d had dark skin and hair rather than pale skin and blonde hair. I think about how this is what kids do, they do stupid things—and this dumb little thing they did, throwing something at a passing car, is literally one of the dumbest things they’ve ever done in their entire lives and it wouldn’t have even made the Top 20 dumb things I’d done by their age, not even close.
And if those series of facts, virtually none of which they had anything to do with but which were just the luck of the draw, were each just a tiny bit different, they could very well be lying in the morgue right now and their killer free forever—because, after all, throwing something at a car is without question far more threatening an act than walking down the street with a bag of Skittles. And I think about how insanely lucky I am and how it’s just not fair.